CARBONDALE — Aaron Cook, as he did at Murray State last week, took things into his own hands with the shot clock winding down Wednesday against SIU-Edwardsville.
The 6-foot-2, 185-pound sophomore point guard made a strong move past Christian Ellis on the right wing, took a bump from another defender near the free-throw line, but finished the drive for a 40-point lead at the 4-minute mark. Cook's 13 points and four assists helped the Salukis snap a two-game losing streak with an 86-59 win at SIU Arena.
Without Michael Rodriguez, a senior point guard who produced some last-second heroics with the shot clock going down last season, Cook has done his best to take over the role. Even when it doesn't turn out as well as he hoped.
"Our execution as a team definitely has to get better," Cook said, noting SIU had two or three shot clock violations in the loss at Murray State. "I feel like any time something like that happens it's my fault because I didn't get us into the offense quick enough, or I just didn't do my job as point guard."
The Salukis (3-2) believe junior Marcus Bartley, whenever he comes back from a broken bone in his wrist, will also take some last-second shots. For now, Cook, the team's chief ballhandler, is the first option, and has done an admirable job, according to coach Barry Hinson. Rodriguez was known for sinking a few 25-foot 3-pointers late in the shot clock last season. Cook appears more comfortable putting the ball on the floor when things get tight, and has a team-best 16 assists to show for it.
"The guys, if you noticed, in the last-second situations, almost every time that the two people that are involved in it that are in the shot clock plays are guys that have not played an extensive period of time," Hinson said. "With that being said, I think it was really encouraging. I thought Aaron Cook was just outstanding at how he handled the shot clock at Murray. We just didn't handle the end of the result of his passes very good."
SIU missed 12 layups at Murray State and missed 11 in the first half against SIU-Edwardsville (1-5). The Salukis shot 53.4 percent from the field in their biggest victory of the series against the Cougars and got all five starters into double figures. Things didn't always go as planned, though.
Early in the game, Cook got stuck on the left wing with the ball with the shot clock winding down. He was unable to get around a screen and had to throw it up off the right side. His shot missed the rim, and the Salukis turned it over.
* MVC off to hot start: SIU's win on Wednesday night, coupled with Indiana State beating Air Force and Northern Iowa's overtime win over UNLV, pushed the Missouri Valley Conference to a 51-20 non-conference record.
The Valley's winning percentage (71.8 percent) is the best in 55 years. The league has surpassed 70 percent in the non-conference only 12 times before, most recently in 2006-07, when the Salukis reached the Sweet 16. The league is 4-4 against teams from Power Five conferences so far.